church nonsense, faith, Stories from the Island


I may have said this before, but I often feel like I am stuck in kindergarten.  I sit in the audience and learn the same elementary lessons over and over, week after week with no hope of graduation, because women aren’t allowed to graduate.

I don’t belong in the audience listening to the laughter at the opening joke and receiving a weekly dose of shallow truth.  So some weeks I stay home and do my own Bible study.  Dig deeper than my pastor dares to go.  Like this week.  I stayed home on Sunday and my hubby went without me.   “Sorry, Honey,” he said, “but your husband is in leadership.”

“Yeah, see if you can do anything about that sinful misogyny, wouldya’?”

I didn’t skip church altogether, though.  I went Saturday night.  To a different church.  Donna called and said the women from the island were going to have a little reunion at her church for the Saturday evening service.  She invited me to join them.

When I got there I discovered only a few of the island women.  Instead, there were three rows of her friends, there to celebrate her birthday.

I sat next to Ronald.  He asked me if we were in a church because it sure didn’t look like one.  It looked like an auditorium.  He asked me why he wasn’t invited to the island.  I told him he wasn’t pretty enough.  He sang along and leaned over to say, “I bet you didn’t know I could sing like that.”

Afterward I was invited to join the group at a nearby restaurant for dinner.  Twenty five of us.  I sat next to Donna and asked how she had met each person at the table.  They were a varied group, collected over many years of street ministry.  Many of them were part of a newly formed Bible study that was meeting at Brenda’s house.

As I said my good-byes, Ronald asked, “Will we see you again?”

“I hope so.”

“Why don’t you come to our Bible study (which meets clear, clear, clear across town)?”

“Maybe I will sometime, if I am invited.”

Brenda spoke up and said, “Yes, come.  Everyone talks and shares.  We’ve become very close.  We pray for one another, anoint one another.”

I sighed, “I wish church were like that.”

Ronald said, “Yes, come hang out with the misfits.”

I smiled, “We’re all misfits in one way or another.”

Jesus was a misfit.  He wanted to talk about His Father; the Pharisees wanted to talk about the Law, more specifically all the tedious man-made things they had added to the Law.  I’m not saying that I am like Jesus.  I’m not saying the leaders in my church are like the Pharisees… well, maybe I am.  A little.


bluesbby, Creative Commons

This is Brenda’s story, told in a quiet, halting voice:

Hi my name is Brenda.  I came from a rough life that was …um… but God has changed me.  I was gang raped at the age of fourteen and I ran away from home.  My life went down from that point.  I became a prostitute and I started using crack cocaine.

I wound up going to penitentiary… several times, I stayed in somebody’s institution – mental institution – rehab, mostly prison, so locked up.  In the process, when I was in those places, God was still speaking to me.  Every time I went back to the institution, He was speaking to my soul each time.

Whoever this is helping today, God is a deliverer.  No matter what you’ve been through or whatever challenges you’ve ever had in your life, it will be easy when you turn your life over to Him.  Well, my walking hasn’t been that easy, I still struggle in a lot of areas, trying to get myself together.  When you’ve been in bondage so long, and caught up in yourself and the things of the world, you lose sight of what is real and what’s not.   But today I am saved by grace, and I’m loving my new life, there’s nothing compared to it.  I’ve found so much joy now.

Where I really want to help someone is, I’ve been in a lot of abusive relationships, too.  Be always careful about who you let in your personal space.  Men will deceive you and lead you to the bedroom so quickly.  And you lose sight of yourself and they start taking control of you and tell you stuff that you don’t believe that you are…. um… what I’m really saying is, they start working on your self-esteem and breaking you down.  And when you start thinking less of yourself you don’t care what you do.  But I’ve been delivered from that, too.  I’m just grateful to God today that I am here, where I’m at, just praising Him, just thanking Him for the change that He has given me in my life.  I’m just grateful to be alive.  I put myself in a lot of dangerous situations and I’m grateful that I didn’t die out there in the streets.  I know I was covered by the blood of Jesus.  Thank you.

Afterward, Brenda shared that her boyfriend – her very first boyfriend – was among the gang that raped her.  He set her up.  How do you recover from that kind of betrayal?

Seeing Brenda Saturday night so full of joy, inviting me to the Bible study at her house, only God can do that.

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014

faith, restoration, Stories from the Island

Misguided Commitments

city rail

Creative Commons: Stefano Campolo

The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
She knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.

I stood behind Betty in the bustling lunch line.   It was our first opportunity to become acquainted.  She told me that she is retired from social work, spent most of her career in protective services.  “That’s a really tough job,” I acknowledged.  “It’s not the job I wanted,” she confessed, “but it is where God wanted me.  He held me there.”  Had the setting been less chaotic, had her turn to order not been quickly approaching, had I understood that she was trying to tell me something, I would have asked her to explain.  Instead I switched the conversation onto a shallow track and merely shared that I had been a social worker in an adjacent county.

Betty is a key dropper, one of the volunteers who drives into the city to reach out to prostitutes.  I thought that, plus the fact that she is a retired social worker, was the whole story.  But then she took her turn in the share chair Sunday evening:

I grew up a child of the sixties – very shy, lonely, naive, never dated anyone in high school, never went to the prom or any dance like that.  One night, between my junior and senior year, a friend of a friend came over and crashed our girls get together.  He was the first guy to think I was worth attention.  And so we went out.   He wasn’t like anyone I had ever known before.  He was a bad boy.  I looked up to some of the things he did that I didn’t have the nerve to do – to get angry, to show emotions of any kind.  So in a strange way I kind of respected him, but not in a good way.

We went out for awhile and then I went off to school and he went off to Vietnam.  I had made a commitment to him.  I was going to wait for him and I sincerely meant that, because I was grateful for his attention to me.

I got done with school and he got done with the army about the same time.  But along the way, the few times I had seen him I realized that we were going in different directions.  But I made that commitment and to me that was big.  Misguided but big.  So he asked me to marry him after he got home and I said yes.  I knew there were red flags, I wasn’t totally sure this was a good decision, in fact a lot of me said it’s not a good decision.  But I went ahead and married him, then realized how much Vietnam had changed him.  He came back angry with God, addicted, a womanizer.   All Bad traits.  So our marriage went from bad to worse.

Then our daughter was born.  He was not a good father, he was emotionally abusive to her, to me, it just kept getting progressively worse.

Finally I realized I had to get away from him.  I knew… I didn’t want to get a divorce… I was committed to “’til death do us part”, but I didn’t think God would want me to stay in an abusive relationship.  So I finally got up the nerve to say I wanted a divorce.  Then the threats started getting very desperate.  He threatened to kill me.  He said, “I’ve killed people before, they’ll never find your body.”  We had a submachine gun under the bed.  I lived like a prisoner in the house for several years.

Finally I contemplated suicide, but then that would leave my daughter with him so I ruled that out.  I thought I would end up in a mental institution, it was getting so bad, he was so controlling.  He put tape recorders in the house and he would stalk me when I went off to work.  It was unreal, but it still looked good on the surface.  He had a position of authority and he had to make it look good.

So finally, you know, when God is all you have left, then He is all you need.  So I started praying, “Lord, please create a distraction where I can get away from him.  Please create a distraction.  He won’t let me go voluntarily.  Please.”  Five nights in a row I prayed.  On the sixth day we were out of town and he said, “You know, there are people jealous of me.  You’re going to hear some things and it’s all lies.  They’re just jealous of me.”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  He wouldn’t explain.

We got back home and in the newspaper there was a story about people in his office who had been involved in a gang rape.  He was one of them.  This was why he was becoming so much more desperate in his behavior, so much more abusive.  He was looking to stay out of prison, looking to control me, looking to not lose what he had, not lose his image.

That was all I needed.  I said, “Thank you, Lord.”  It took two years, but I got away from him with my daughter.  I swore to God that I wouldn’t forget it and that I would help other people get away from situations like that.  My career was social work and I was involved with women in the same situation.  They would say to me, “You just don’t understand,”  and I would whisper, “Oh yes, I do.”  I worked for the state so I couldn’t talk about God but I would wear a cross and let them bring Him up to me.  Then I could tell them, “A commitment to no man comes near to your commitment to God.  He will see you through.”

Life is too short for misguided commitments.
Life is too short to take the shallow track.